BELLEAIR — Attorneys are still hammering out the fine details, but Belleair has come to agreement with the current owners to buy the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club, previously known as the Pelican Golf Club.
The $3.5 million deal includes the land, clubhouse, other golf course buildings and improvements.
The property features 135 acres of gently rolling grounds, a stately clubhouse and an 18-hole course designed by golf course architect Donald Ross in 1925. He was hired by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant, who built the Belleview Biltmore hotel in 1897.
The golf course, located a mile from the historic hotel, provides a pleasurable pastime for residents and tourists and offers charming views for the homeowners who live around it.
But it's important to the town for another reason: It is a recharge area for groundwater. The town gets its drinking water from nearby wells.
The course's green space makes up almost 12 percent of the town's footprint. If a developer were to build townhomes or other structures on it, the town's water supply could be greatly affected.
Town Manager Micah Maxwell said he began thinking about a way for the city to acquire the golf course back in September.
"I was looking for ways to protect the development rights on the golf course for a while — and then it ended up being part of the strategy for settlement," he said, referring to recent foreclosure litigation that provided an impetus for the purchase.
The Belleview Biltmore hotel, its golf course and its Cabana Club on Sand Key are owned by Raphael and Daniel Ades, investors from Miami. Not only do the Ades brothers own the three properties, they hold the mortgage too, through a separate company.
Because they have allowed the hotel, which closed in 2009, to deteriorate, the town's code enforcement board has been fining them $250 a day. The town holds a lien on all three properties and as of Wednesday, the amount of the lien totaled $277,250.
So the owners planned to foreclose — on themselves.
The strategy is a complicated one, but assuming the investors were the successful bidder at the foreclosure auction, the lien would be cancelled with no payment to the town since the town is considered the secondary lien holder.
When the owners began the foreclosure proceedings, Maxwell proposed purchasing the golf club from them as a way to settle the foreclosure lawsuit. If Belleair owned the club, it could pass an ordinance to ensure the land never gets developed.
Under the terms of the purchase agreement, the town will cancel the fines and remove the lien from the golf club and Cabana Club. For this, the town will receive $50,000.
The lien will remain on the hotel and restart from zero the day after the effective date of the purchase agreement. The town then becomes the senior lien holder.
The Belleair commission voted unanimously to approve the purchase during a meeting last week. The money to buy the golf course was going to come out of the town's infrastructure fund. However, a recent $4 million bequest to the town from resident John J. Osborne could change those plans.
"The key to the purchase is making sure the golf course remains open space," Maxwell said. "The city could run it or lease it out. If the hotel is sold, we may sell it to the buyer. It could become parkland," Maxwell said. "We'll figure out what is the best decision for the town and have meetings about it."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.